One of the UK’s leading arts events, Buxton International Festival is a glorious summertime celebration of opera, music and books. Surrounded by the rolling hills of the Peak District, the festival takes place in the spa town of Buxton between the 5 and the 21 July, delivering a programme of 120 events to 30,000 people. A range of operas, concerts and literary events make up the core programme each year, showcasing rising stars in the arts world as well as internationally-renowned singers, musicians and literary figures. With 2019 marking the festival’s 40th anniversary, this year’s programme also features guided town walks, cooking demonstrations, talks, dinners, jazz and even a Festival Tea Garden where Festival-goers can discuss the events of the day against a background of pop-up performances. With so much to look forward to at Buxton International Festival 2019, we thought we’d point out a few of this year’s sure-to-be-highlights.
First and foremost, there are some wonderful operas to look forward to this year – not least, the world premiere of a specially-commissioned opera pasticcio illustrating the life and times of Georgiana Cavendish, the fifth Duchess of Devonshire. Georgiana is a story of obsession, the high life and celebrity, and of the relationship between two women in an age of male dominance. Featuring music by Thomas Linley, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Giovanni Paisiello, Martín y Soler and Stephen Storace, it’s sure to thrill at the Buxton Opera House. There, it makes an excellent pairing with Tchaikovsky’s finest opera, Eugene Onegin. Renowned for its sweeping melodic pulse and tremendous emotional punch, the work is based on Pushkin’s famed novel in verse, and tells the story of first love and painful rejection; broken friendship and regret. And finally, for those who like their operas to reside a little off the beaten track, Caldara’s Lucio Papirio Dittatore is a rare treasure indeed, with this Buxton performance marking the work’s first outing since its 1719 premiere in Vienna. Telling the story of family strife in pre-Imperial Rome, the opera features jubilant choral writing and dazzling virtuoso arias – a perfect vehicle for the dynamic, Gramophone Award-winning baroque ensemble La Serenissima.
Buxton International Festival’s concert series looks equally inspired. Opening the festival at the Buxton Opera House, singers from the Buxton Festival Company will combine with visiting young artists from Cape Town Opera as well as rising stars from the Royal Northern College of Music. Together, they will give a celebratory concert entitled New Voices, featuring excerpts from well-loved operas by the likes of Mozart, Beethoven and Rossini. We also look forward to VOCES8, whose programme at St John’s Church will showcase the beauty of voices in harmony, featuring the likes of Mendlessohn and Rachmaninov, as well as Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, and composer-in-residence Jonathan Dove. And for something a little different, award-winning sound artist and beatboxer Jason Singh will bring together a stellar line-up of electronic and acoustic collaborators to perform at the Pavilion Café. We particularly look forward to hearing from Yazz Ahmed (trumpet and flugelhorn), Sarathy Korwar (drums) and Arun Ghosh (clarinet), all of whom will explore the realms of spiritual jazz, minimal electronica and virtuosic live performance.
On the literary side of the festival, meanwhile, Buxton welcomes one of Britain’s foremost natural history writers, Mark Cocker, who will spark a lively debate with Jean McNeil, author of The Ice Diaries, and Tessa Boase, author of Mrs Pankhurst’s Purple Feather. At the Pavilion Arts Centre, the three will discuss diversity in our countryside, climate change, as well their respective works. We also look forward to An Audience with Kate Humble, during which the presenter and narrator will talk about her latest book, Thinking on my Feet, as well as her life working with wildlife, the far-flung places that this has taken her to and the inspiring people she has met on her travels. There’s also a unique chance to go ‘behind the camera’ as Kate describes how the BBC programmes are made along with some lovely anecdotes about the filming. Also intriguing is Sir Venki Ramakrishnan’s talk, which will offer an insight into what it is like to work at the cutting edge of modern science. Specifically, the Nobel Prize-winner will tell the story of his quest to determine the structure of the ribosome, and so resolve an ancient mystery at the heart of life itself.
As well as all of this, there will be a series of fascinating talks curated by historian Peter Hennessey, entitled Utopia or Dystopia – Imagined Futures. These will bring together Britain’s foremost thinkers and commentators on matters of hopes and fear in a changing world, including Science and AI, Brexit Britain: What Next? and Are Gender Stereotypes Damaging Our Children? And if all of that gets a little heavy, then light relief is on offer in the form of cookery demonstrations by some extremely talented and entertaining chefs. The best of these include a demo from Saliha Hahmood Ahmed, winner of MasterChef 2017 and an expert in Indian fusion cooking. There’s also the opportunity to learn the secrets of Michelin-starred chef Max Fischer, who has cooked for Prince Charles, Margaret Thatcher and President Nixon. And lastly, Britain’s best-loved forager and a regular on River Cottage, John Wright will teach you how to forage, store and cook edible delights from our countryside. Lovely!
With a programme jam-packed with more quality events than in any previous year of the festival, and with each of them set in a stunning location, Buxton International Festival 2019 looks set to be the best one yet. Don’t miss it!